Internet Mental Health



How Would You Rate Your Self-Control?

Research has shown that better self-control (defined as impulse control, ability to delay gratification and control emotions) leads to better health and prosperity, and discourages crime and substance abuse. Self-control is essential to achieve goals and to avoid harmful impulses or emotions.

Questions To Ask Yourself

      Emotional Stability:
  • Do you have a stable and peaceful mood?

      Stable Self-Image & Life Goals:
  • Are you certain about "who-am-I" and "where-am-I-going" in life?

      Stable Personal Relationships:
  • Do you have stable and peaceful personal relationships?

  • Do you think carefully before acting or speaking; are you cautious?

  • Are you genuine (not overly theatrical or attention-seeking)?

  • Do you avoid having casual sex ("one night stands"), and not have an intense desire for illicit sex?

  • Think carefully before acting or speaking
  • Be genuine (not theatrical or attention-seeking)
  • Avoid having casual sex
  • Avoid alcohol or drug abuse
  • Avoid disabling procrastination or perfectionism

Historical Perspective

    Throughout history, philosophers have taught that happiness comes from the pursuit of virtue and the avoidance of vice.

    • Any behavioral excess that invariably leads to social harm, is a vice.

    • Any behavior that invariably leads to social improvement, is a virtue.

    These philosophers taught moderation in all things or the "golden mean". That is, they believed that virtue lies in the desirable middle between two extremes, one of excess and the other of deficiency. For example, courage is a virtue, but if taken to excess would be recklessness, and if deficient would be cowardice.

    These philosophers believed that we should moderate our emotions, and avoid emotional extremes. They taught that we should try to gain tranquility (positive emotion free from negative emotion).

    These philosophers taught that we must endure adversity without letting adversity corrupt our virtue. We should not use adversity as license to indulge in self-pity or to turn to vice.

Low Self-Control At Age 4 Predicts Poor Functioning At Age 40

    For young children, there is a simple test of self-control called the "The Marshmallow Test". In this test, 4 year old children are given a marshmallow and told that they can eat it anytime they want, but if they waited 15 minutes, they would receive another marshmallow. Young children with poor self-control can't wait the 15 minutes, hence fail this test.

    In the 1960s, the psychologist Walter Mischel tested four-year-old children for self-control using "The Marshmallow Test". The participants in this original study were then followed-up when they were in their 40's. Those participants who showed less self-control by taking the single marshmallow in the initial study were more likely to develop problems with relationships, stress, and drug abuse later in life. Further years of follow-up showed that the life-expectancy of the original participants was more strongly correlated with their assessed self-control level at age 4 than anything else.

    Thus our self-control might be the single most important factor that determines our life expectancy. (Medically, this makes a lot of sense because the three top causes of death in the developed world are: tobacco smoking, obesity and alcoholism.)

Avoiding Temptation

    Today it's impossible to live a life without temptation. The world's major religions teach that we should avoid those situations and people that lead to temptation. We should never sacrifice our virtue.

    We don't have to fight temptation alone; there is no shame in asking others for help. We should not feel like a failure, or develop self-hatred, because we feel temptation.

    Research has shown it usually takes 3 months of abstinence to break a bad habit. The important thing is to fight your temptations; don't quit because of setbacks.


    Self-control allows us to get along well with others. It is essential that we control our:

    • anger

    • sexual behavior

    • eating

    • overspending

    • gambling

    • alcohol or drug use

    Self-control is like a muscle; the more we exercise our self-control, the stronger it gets. We become stronger by making ourselves do things we don?t want to do (like working hard or strenuously exercising).

    The reverse is also true. Every time we give into temptation; our self-control becomes weaker.

What Are The Most Dangerous Modern Vices

    "The Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors Study 2010" found that the top 3 causes of death in the developed world were:

    • #1 Tobacco smoking

    • #2 Obesity and sedentary lifestyle

    • #3 Alcoholism

    These three vices by far caused more deaths than other vices like:

    • Drug abuse

    • Sexual promiscuity and resulting sexually-transmitted illness

    Other vices like gambling and over-spending don't cause death, but do still cause significant social harm.

Knowing When To Not Talk

    People with poor self-control often later regret the hateful things they blurt out when they are very angry. Thus it is essential for them to learn to not talk under these angry circumstances.

    When very angry, the best course of action is to tell the other person that: "Now is not a good time to talk; I'd like to continue this discussion later". It is essential to return to this discussion, once the anger of both parties is better controlled, so that the problem can be resolved.

    If it is not possible to take such a time-out; it is best to count to ten before talking when you are very angry.


    People with poor self-control often impulsively blurt out their thoughts before listening to what the other person said.

    To correct this, people can learn the four steps of active listening:

    • Step #1 Pay attention:
      Put everything down and pay attention to the speaker.

    • Step #2 Paraphrase back:
      Repeat back a quick summary of what the speaker just said. This will prove that you have been paying attention.

    • Step #3 Ask for further clarification:
      Ask clarifying questions so you can make sure you have all the pertinent information before expressing an opinion.

    • Step #4 Express your opinion:
      Expressing your opinion to the speaker is further proof that you have been actively listening. Now it is the speaker's turn to actively listen and do steps #1 to #4.

Minding Your Own Business

    People with poor self-control often stick their nose into other people's business when they are not welcomed to do so. This usually offends others. Thus people with poor self-control must learn to mind their own business.

Not Blaming Others

    Children with poor self-control often are very difficult for a parent to raise. The parent is usually forced to provide the external control that the child internally lacks. When these children grow up, as adults they often complain that their parent(s) were too strict or "over-controlling".

    These adults don't realize that their own poor self-control as children forced their parents into becoming more strict and controlling. Often the adult with poor self-control has a sibling with good self-control; despite the fact that they had the same parents. Thus little is accomplished by blaming parents for one's own poor self-control.

    Individuals with poor self-control often see themselves as a "victim". Blaming others usually prevents them from accepting responsibility for their own poor self-control and poor decision-making. The sooner these individuals can be moved out of their "victim" role; the sooner will be their recovery.

People With Good Self-Control

    Research has shown that people with good self-control:

    • Are difficult to offend

    • Know how to say no (to themselves and others):
      They know how to delay gratification, and avoid impulsive action.

    • Control their anger:
      When dealing with difficult people, individuals with good self-control do not let their anger escalate the confrontation. They try to consider the difficult person's viewpoint to find solutions and common ground. They remain calm, soften their voice, show patience, and if possible, force a smile.


    Courage requires that people be very conscientious in their attempts to overcome adversity. Conscientious individuals are disciplined, hard-working, and set ambitious goals for themselves. Individuals that are not conscientious are sloppy, lazy, aimless and chaotic.

    Psychological research has found that conscientiousness is one of the 5 distinct factors describing personality. These "Big Five" factors are:

    • Conscientiousness: the extent to which one is organized and dependable

    • Agreeableness: the extent to which one is cooperative and altruistic

    • Neuroticism: lack of emotional stability (i.e., lack of control of negative emotion, such as anger, anxiety, or depression)

    • Extraversion: a measure of sociability, ambition and narcissism

    • Intellect: Openness To Experience (a measure of creativity and novelty-seeking)

    Of the 'Big Five' personality factors, conscientiousness is most strongly associated with positive work performance, predicting positive work behaviors almost twice as well as any of the other four traits.

    Being disorganized and undependable is just as destructive to social functioning as it is to occupational functioning. Thus for successful functioning conscientiousness is very important.

Pragmatism vs. Perfectionism

    It is possible to be over-conscientious by becoming too perfectionistic. The problem with perfectionism is that it can become too time-consuming (getting things perfect), or it can paralyze a person when it leads to procrastination.

    Research has found that we should be pragmatists, not perfectionists. It's important to do things right, but we shouldn't become paralyzed by perfectionism.

Goal Setting

    In business, a fool with a plan can outsmart a genius with no plan any day.

    The world's major religions stress that you should live purpose-driven lives, rather than wander aimlessly through life. You should be organized, responsible, and plan ahead. You should set goals, work towards them, and persist amid setbacks. These religions teach that you reap what you sow; thus you must work hard today to be successful tomorrow.

    A wish is not a goal. A goal is only a goal if it has two things: (1) it's achievable, and (2) there's a physical action you can take to pursue it.

    Choose one goal and then just take small steps towards it. It is important to finish one step at a time, in order to not get distracted. Creating daily "to-do" lists can assist in keeping you goal-oriented. If an ambitious goal can't be realized, you should switch to a more attainable goal rather than getting discouraged and giving up.

    Research by psychologist Gail Matthews showed that people who write down their goals, share this information with a friend, and send weekly updates to that friend are on average 33% more successful in accomplishing their stated goals than those who merely formulate goals.


    Often people procrastinate because they set unachievable goals for themselves. Saying "I will paint the house this weekend" will probably lead to failure because you have set yourself too great a task in too short a time. Instead, write down a checklist which divides the total project into smaller, more attainable tasks.

    So, the first weekend, you would buy paint and brushes and paint only one wall. Each subsequent weekend, you would paint another wall. As you see your checklist getting shorter, the urge to procrastinate will disappear.

    It is very important to overcome procrastination because life rewards activity, and punishes inactivity.
Internet Mental Health 1995-2018 Phillip W. Long, M.D.